'I got involved with the MDU quite by chance, says Paul Riordan-Eva as he discusses his route to his current position as chair of the MDU's board of management. Having been appointed a consultant ophthalmologist, a colleague approached him in the mid-'90s with an interesting medico-legal case. 'He just said, 'Here you are, I think you might be good at this', and it took off from there.'
In talking about why he enjoys his involvement with the MDU, Paul explains how important he feels it is that doctors have the right support when things go wrong but also notes the parallels between his sub-specialty of neuro-ophthalmology and medico-legal work. 'I like sorting things out, and I've always liked the forensic side of things,' he says with a smile, 'digging into the detail and working out exactly what happened and why.'
Being asked to join the MDU's council and cases committee in 2003, and later the board in 2006, were both opportunities that allowed Paul to expand his horizons beyond his extensive experience in clinical and medico-legal work. 'The council offer came rather out of the blue,' he says, 'but it's a really interesting forum. It gives you an insight into other areas of clinical practice and keeps you alive to medicine beyond your own specialty.'
The same goes with the board of directors. A key factor of the MDU's ethos is that the company's activities are not only geared towards doctors' interests but also guided by doctors themselves. Paul stresses the importance of having around half the board consist of clinically trained professionals, adding that one of the most interesting aspects being chair is interacting with the non-medical directors, who provide critical actuarial, insurance, investments and strategic experience and expertise.
'They naturally look at the company from a more commercial aspect. But someone coming from the insurance market, for example, might not be aware of certain aspects of clinical practice, or the pressures and priorities members have.
'We're here to serve the members, and unless the non-medical non-executive directors understand what members think and expect, you're not going to get there. And of course the reverse is true of the overall commercial concerns, which is why the mixed make-up of the board is so important.'
Photo credit: Richard Bailey Photography
Speaking of his own role, Paul believes that the primary function of the chair is a coordinating one. 'It's about making sure that the board works well; that the right issues are discussed and the right information provided at board meetings, and that there's a continual focus on what we're trying to achieve,' he explains.
'Much of the activity of the board is monitoring the company's activities, with particular attention paid to corporate governance and risk management, but the paramount purpose is determining strategy. Everything boils down to strategy, which is directed towards providing services for members, and it's a matter of constantly ensuring that the members' interests are brought to bear.
'Because the MDU is a mutual company, the primary priority of the board is to ensure that the commitments made to individual members are fulfilled, but the interests of the membership as a whole must also be protected. For example, subscriptions must be adequate to cover current and future liabilities for each and every member.'
It's a matter of constantly ensuring that the members' interests are brought to bear.
He cites the recent SaveGP campaign as an example of an initiative resulting from a strategy that has doctors' interests absolutely uppermost in mind. 'Recently the board has focused on the affordability of indemnity cover for our GP members, and that includes the Save General Practice campaign. GPs in particular are under a lot of pressure, and they need a voice and a focus to gather round,' he says, pointing out that the MDU has a long history of being a reliable and sensible source of information from the government's point of view.
'The government might think we're too partisan towards our members, and that's bound to be the case, but the MDU does have a voice of authority among those circles. That's very important, because the welfare of healthcare in this country is determined by the approach the government takes towards the people working in that industry.'
It's obvious that being able to play a part in how this approach is informed is a source of great pride for Paul. 'Being chairman of the board is a great honour, he says. 'I have been a member of the MDU since I qualified in 1982, and each year I would look with admiration through the names in the annual report of the chairman, vice-chairman, directors and members of council.
'Little did I realise that I would be privileged to have my name included in those lists, but I hope that my work on behalf of the MDU will justify my appointment as chair.'